Tag Archives: grains


I’ll admit I have a bit of an addiction to bread. I always try to eat a balanced diet but bread is the one thing that I could eat way too much of. I have ‘comfort foods’ in all food groups and there are only a few foods – like seafood and olives – that I absolutely refuse to eat. Other foods in the ‘grains’ food group don’t entice me like a good piece of bread. I like pasta or rice but I could turn them down if I wasn’t hungry. A good piece of bread however I will never say no to.

I should clarify though that I don’t consider ‘white’ bread to be ‘real’ bread. White bread is like marshmallow fluff and doesn’t belong alongside good bread. Good bread has texture, weight and flavour. I haven’t bought white bread or buns for more than twenty years. I don’t even buy all purpose flour for anything other than Christmas Shortbread cookies. I modify all my recipes – sweet or savory – to use only 100% whole wheat flour, oatmeal and seeds.

I buy packaged whole wheat and seed bread for our everyday sandwiches and toast but many of our fancy snack and specialty breads are made from scratch. I have, long ago, done the whole mix, knead, let rise, repeat, bread making by hand thing but that was before I got my first bread maker. I can’t even remember how long ago that was but I do know I just killed my third bread maker.

As usual, in the morning before the children arrived, I had measured and added the ingredients to the bread pan, started the program and walked away. About an hour later there was an awful noise in the kitchen and the bread maker was dead. I had a brief moment of panic about the unmixed raisin bread we were supposed to be having for afternoon snack – then I decided I could finish it myself.

I scraped what I could get from the bread maker pan into a bowl, mixed it and hoped it was enough of the important ingredients. For the next few hours whenever I had a chance in between activities with the children I’d knead the dough a little and cover it again. I didn’t time anything – I wasn’t even sure how long or how often each knead/rest cycle should be – the bread maker always took care of that.

At lunch time I climbed up on a step stool to find an old loaf pan from the top shelf of my cupboard. The five-year-old commented “Geez Cheryl, why are you so short?” My “I am taller than you” reply may or may not have been out loud. I put the dough in the loaf pan to rise a bit more during lunch and planned to bake it at nap time. If I had been using the bread maker it would have been done already. *sigh*

While the children napped and the bread baked I read reviews and researched bread makers online. There were some really fancy ones but I wasn’t sure they would be worth the higher cost. My research was cut short as two of the children woke earlier than expected. Apparently baking bread works like a toddler alarm clock – I can relate.

The raisin bread was beautiful. The loaf pan makes a much nicer shaped loaf than any of the bread makers that I have owned. There were no holes in the loaf from the mixing paddles. The crust was so much nicer too – even on the ‘light’ cycle I find the bread makers create a very thick, tough crust.

I was beginning to wonder if I really needed to buy another bread maker. Could I make all my bread maker recipes by hand? Do I really have time for that? What if instead of buying a bread maker I bought some better loaf pans – maybe even some cute mini loaf pans? What if that just made me want to add more bread to the menu? How much more time would that require? I don’t have much spare time as it is.

I think for now I’m just going to leave the menu as is and see if I can make all the current breads without a bread maker. Then I’ll decide if I need to add/remove bread recipes or buy a bread maker or pans. The experiment begins…

Replacing Crackers

I was at a meeting with other childcare providers and the subject of crackers came up.  Conversation centered around the use of crackers as the ‘grain’ portion of meals and snacks.  There was a brief moment of silence after I commented that I didn’t think the children liked crackers all that much so we rarely have them here.

Then I had to clarify my statement;  The children don’t like the crackers that I am willing to buy.  I have searched through the cracker aisle in the grocery store and read every label.  My husband has been near meltdown stage begging me to just pick a box and move on. I sigh and choose a variety that is somewhat (barely) acceptable.  I won’t advertise the brand but this is the nutrition label;


The sodium level is still too high but it is less than some of the other types and at least it has some fibre.  Most crackers have none – even many of the ones that claim to be multigrain or wholegrain.  The only ‘benefit’ to this purchase is that this 200g box will be in my pantry for at least two months.

Yes, you read that correctly.  Even with eight children in care it will take about that long to finish a single box of crackers.  There are some types of crackers that the children really do like and will consume more of but the nutrition labels for them are nearly identical to that of a bag of chips.

Our four week menu has two snacks per day, five days per week for a total of 40 snacks.  Each snack has a serving of each of these food groups – fruit, dairy and grain.  Currently I only use packaged crackers for two of those 40 snacks.  So what are the other 38 you ask?

  • Oatmeal – the steel cut kind – I refuse to buy/make the overly processed varieties.
  • Store bought breads & bagels – always whole wheat or multigrain – the heavier the better.  We haven’t had any type of white bread here in the last 10 years.
  • Homemade breads etc – apple bread, raisin bread, pumpkin loaf, biscuits, and more.  I use only whole wheat flour even when the recipe calls for all purpose.
  • Breakfast cereals – high fibre with limited sugar – a processed item that I think is acceptable when only offered once per week.
  • Quinoa Pudding
  • Quesadillas made with multigrain tortillas
  • Homemade cookies and bars – all contain wholegrain flour and old fashioned oats

There are also a few snack items that I am considering eliminating.  Things like rice crispy squares and store bought waffles, and graham wafers. A total of six items in the four week menu that I’d like to replace – eight items if I replace those crackers too.

These items might be considered ‘treats’ but are certainly not necessities.  I’d even question the use of the term ‘convenience’ in reference to these items.  Healthier options are not a lot more work.  A big batch of biscuits or scones takes less than an hour to prepare, bake and clean up after.  They freeze well so they can be prepared in advance and used a required.

What about the cost of homemade snacks verses the cost of store bought items? Financially I think it varies but most of the homemade items are less expensive.  Time wise homemade items may cost more unless you are like me and spend hours in the store reading labels before you buy.  Nutritionally there is no contest – homemade always beats processed.

So, I’m off to find some new recipes.  I’ve got a long weekend ahead and a half empty freezer.  First up I think I’ll try something I’ve never made before – biscotti.  Maybe I’ll find a way to use all that pumpkin puree I have left from last fall…

The Grain Project 2

We have finally completed our grain project that we started way back in May.  I don’t think it was as successful a project as growing wheat was in the past.  The Kamut, Triticale and Oats were the only grains that we were really able to harvest.

The soybeans (centre of photo) seemed to do well — at least to the point when this picture was taken – but since they are not really a grain we didn’t include them in the harvest.

The biggest problem with this year’s grain project was the lack of cohesion.  Attendance was sporadic and we had so many changes to the group.  Some of the children that were here for the planting were not here for the growing and harvesting.  The summer children that were here for the growing and havesting had little interest in the project because they did not understand the history behind it.

Still, we did manage to complete the project.  We did not use all the grains.  Since the oats were the most abundant crop we used them.  The children separated the oat kernels from the rest of the plants.  It took a really long time over several weeks because it was a very tedious process.

The wheat was much easier to work with than this;

After some research we discovered that ‘steel cut oats‘ would be a more plausible product for us than rolled oats.  We did do some comparisons with our oats and store bought oats too;

Then for snack yesterday we had oatmeal made from a mixture of our oats and some steel cut oats that I purchased since we didn’t have enough patience to process all of ours.

MMmmmm!  Having tried these I will never go back to quick oats again.  However, most of the preschoolers were unimpressed — claiming this oatmeal was ‘too chewy’.  🙂

Our Grain Project

I figure it is time for a quick update on our project to grow other grains in our garden besides wheat — background info here. I had purchase some lentils, Rye seeds, Oats, Spelt, Triticate, Kamut, Barley, and Quinoa from the Scoop N’Weigh store.

We began by taking a few of each of the grain seeds to examine at circle time.  I shared some information that I had learned about the various grains, where they originated and what they were used for.

The children examined the grains and I wrote down some of their comments and observations.

  • The Rye stinks – it smells like rye bread (apparently not a favourite bread)
  • The oats look like the rye.
  • It smells like horse poo. (it does remind me of the smell of a barn)
  • I think it smells like carrots and celery.
  • To me it smells like perfume and dinosaurs. (Can’t argue with this since I don’t know what a dinosaur smells like).
  • The quinoa is so cute – it is tiny and cool – looks like a seashell.

Then we glued the seed samples on the paper with the information to keep for future reference.

The following day we planted some of the seeds as a test to see if they would actually sprout – I was still a little doubtful.  Everyone got a turn to put some seeds in the soil.

The quinoa is so small it takes great fine motor skills to plant these ones.

Then I put the tray under the grow light and we waited.  The quinoa was the first to sprout – took just two days! Only two of the six quinoa seed sprouted though so I’m not sure if it will be a successful crop.

All of the lentils, Rye, Kamut, and Triticate sprouted and grew magnificently as did half of the Spelt.  The barley and the oats failed to sprout at all.  I even planted a second batch of each and they didn’t sprout either.  Still, more than 50% of the seeds we planted actually did sprout so I can’t complain.

One of our grandmothers with a farm connection has promised to get us some oats and soybeans from the country.  Maybe we’ll have more success with those oats. Hopefully I’ll complete the work on the garden (that will be another post) and we can get the rest of our seeds in the ground outside next week.

From Seed to Plant to Plate — and Back?

We have grown wheat in our garden for the last three years.  I originally got the wheat seeds at a meeting of the Manitoba Nature Action Collaborative for Children – MNACC for short. I didn’t know anything about growing or harvesting wheat but I thought it would look nice in the center of the raised beds – to contrast all the other plants — and it did.

In 2008 when we first planted wheat in our garden I didn’t really have any type of goal in mind, no lesson plan, no purpose other than growing something different in the garden. In the fall when we harvested the last of our vegetables we also collected all the wheat heads. I was actually thinking about using the wheat for crafts or decorations but first I let the children take some of it apart and examine it closely with magnifying glasses.

We did some research, identified all the parts of the wheat plants and what they were used for.  I even used my food processor to grind up some of the wheat and make – very coarse – flour.  And then, one of the preschoolers decided that we should use our new flour to make cookies!  So of course we did because that’s what child-led curriculum is all about.  Our very crunchy ‘wholegrain’ cookies were also very good according to the children.

In 2009 as we planted the wheat in the garden the children were already discussing how we would be using it in the fall.  They had big plans.  “This time”, they said, “we would be making muffins!”  I was more experienced too and used my coffee grinder to turn the wheat into flour – it does a much better job than the food processor.  The muffins were excellent.

2010 was a dismal year. Most of the summer had been cool and very wet.  Our garden produced little of value – several tomatoes, a few cucumbers, one zucchini, some inedible corn, kale that was eaten by something else and only a handful of wheat.  There would be no baking this year.

So, as I was contemplating what we would do for 2011 it occurred to me that the term ‘multigrain’ comes up often in our discussions about food and nutrition but what exactly does it mean? There are other grains besides wheat — maybe we should try to grow some other grains too.

This could be interesting but I wondered where in the city could I get a variety of grain seeds from?  I’ve never seen grain seed at any of the places that I purchase our vegetable seeds from. Spur of the moment I fired off an email to the agriculture department at the University of Manitoba explaining my dilemma and asking for suggestions.

The response surprised me.

They didn’t suggest a nearby farmer or a feed store or any type of ‘agriculture’ type place. They suggested the “Scoop N’Weigh” store on Taylor Ave (sorry, they don’t seem to have a website so I can’t link to them but now that I’ve been there I have to say that it is a totally awesome place). I was stunned.

Honestly, it had never occurred to me to go to a bulk food store to buy grain seeds.  I mean, I wanted seeds for my garden not seeds to eat!?!?! – OMG – For years have I been trying to get children to see the connection between our garden and the food we eat AND I COULDN’T SEE THIS!   Sigh.

This is the end of this post.  It’s not the end of this project – we’ve got some new grain seeds and we’ve begun some experiments but I still need some time to wrap my head around this new concept. I still can’t believe I didn’t see this – and part of me is still doubtful that the seeds will even sprout.  I still have some information to process.